Depression and anxiety, what do they mean to you? There is a lot of coverage on these topics at the moment and, in my opinion, rightly so. Mental health is something that has been affecting so many people, for such a long time, and only now does it feel acceptable to talk about and open each other’s eyes to the struggles people face daily.
There is a secret; one that nobody is prepared to talk about; one so shocking it may bring down society as we know it. Am I talking about a scandal, or some sort of political corruption? Am I talking about some secret society that quietly rules over us, or perhaps I am talking about the fact we are all lizard people. While I would infinitely prefer to talk about any one of these things, I am in fact talking about the truth that, literally, nobody is talking about. I am talking about the fact that people with mental illness walk among us.
My gruelling battle with depression has been somewhat of a pilgrimage, without the heavenly resolution at the end of the journey. The experience could be described as a paradox. I savour the essence of being alone. However, that idealism is detrimental to my mental health.
What’s more awkward? Making a colleague a cuppa and asking how they’re doing, or running through the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for depression to ascertain whether they require a professional referral? Any idea what I’m talking about?
It’s Time to Talk Day, so I want to share the message that talking about mental health does not need to be something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. This means breaking down stigma and opening doors. Perhaps, the door to the doctor’s surgery. Or the door to the quiet room outside, where I believe it is okay to talk.
I’ve spent the past 15 years of my career – in recruitment and HR – raising awareness of disability issues in the workplace, encouraging individuals to disclose disabilities to employers, coaching partners through assessment and hiring decisions, encouraging candidates to choose a firm where they can show their true self at work and, above all else, selling the supportive culture of the law firms for which I have worked.
Mental health was not a term known to me until around two years ago. I didn’t know anything about the importance of your own wellbeing, nor did I understand the devastating impact it would have on people I know. If I know anything about mental health issues it’s through my own research after a conversation with colleagues or friends. Whilst I love my heritage, the reason I knew nothing of about it is probably down to my culture and community.
When I’m really struggling internally, I overcompensate externally. Think Ross from Friends when he finds out about Rachel and Joey. That episode struck a chord with me because I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve tried to put on a good show and ended up looking like an absolute idiot. I’d get all loud and animated; try to be funny; try to convince others and myself that there’s nothing wrong. They say the unhappiest people are the ones that seem the happiest. For a large chunk of my school days, that was me. My face was laughing and smiling but my eyes weren’t.
It's never easy telling someone about your mental health. It's never easy trying to explain the heavy feeling in your chest, the lack of motivation you have, the heavy head and whirlwind of sad thoughts constantly sitting in the back of your head.
For as long as I can remember, I have heard people say they are "so OCD" or "I definitely have OCD", a throw away comment because they had just spent an hour deep cleaning their house or they had to straighten a wonky picture on the wall. Comments that made me doubt and question myself for years. Why? Because all along I was suffering with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) yet I wasn't aware.
Having a dissociative disorder means that I haven't been myself for a long time. I feel like a mimic of myself. I'm a person trying my best to play ‘me’, when I haven't been properly briefed on who it is I'm meant to be playing. It's confusing to say the least.
Having friends in my corner has made the prospect of recovery seem possible - something I spent years believing wasn’t. One thing that always made me sceptical, about disclosing my mental health difficulties to friends, was the fear of them judging me and no longer wanting to be friends, due to the stigma associated with my illness: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
I’m unsure I’ve ever been described as an ‘inspiration’, until now. Should it even matter?
I think it does because words – carefully-chosen or not – can shape attitudes. How often have we watched, or read about, a Paralympian’s medal-winning success and the adjective ‘inspirational’ has been used? It’s meant as a sincere compliment, and yet an unintended consequence may be to reinforce what makes them different.
We are Emma and Sophie and two years ago we bumped into each other while we were out for dinner. We had been really good friends in the past but had fallen out of touch over the last few years. We had never meant to lose touch but we had both been scared that too much time had gone by to reconnect.
When I first started battling with my mental health, I thought the mental illness would be the hardest thing to deal with - little did I know that other people’s reactions to said mental illness would make the battle into a war. Ultimately it feels like an attack on you, as your illness is part of who you are. In reality, it’s due to a lack of understanding.
I grew up in a family where we didn't talk about mental health so all the issues I was dealing with were swept under the rug. I was always told to pray about it because prayer solved everything and I knew/felt that wasn't true. I wanted to talk about it and find out why I felt the way I did or why I hurt myself, physically and mentally, the way I did, but no one in my family wanted to help me with that.
Responses from employers, when they have discovered that I have schizoaffective disorder, have been wide ranging. This has been from the humiliation of being marched unceremoniously from the premises, by a ridiculous number of panicked little men in ill-fitting suits, or to the wonderful rare occurrence of the university HR department last month, who talked me through my fear of speaking to a lecture hall full of first year students.
I’m James, I’m 25 years old, and I live in a small town just outside of Chester. I’m a Time to Change Young Champion, and that means I spend my spare time campaigning to stamp out stigma and discrimination around mental health in the UK.
Becoming a Time to Change Young Champion has completely changed the way I live; it has given me the confidence to talk openly, without shame or fear, about my mental health. I no longer feel I need to lie about my experiences, or worry that conversations about my health will make others and myself feel uncomfortable. I have learnt a lot by sharing my experiences and I hope I have helped others too.
I first experienced warning signs of my impending breakdown in autumn 2008. I'd been working long hours in a major bank, the financial crisis was kicking off and there were widespread rumours of large scale redundancies - or even the bank going bust. I’d just bought a house, my girlfriend's income was fairly unpredictable, and we were quite stretched financially.
Talking about it is such a relief, although it has taken me two decades to realise it. My story started when I was a child. Witnessing my incredible Mother experience two horrific mental breakdowns really affected me more than I could ever recognise being so young. I couldn't understand why she would be in tears on a daily basis, and shielded from us by my Father as she just couldn't cope with life itself. It wasn't until my own breakdown recently that it suddenly dawned on me just how dreadful coping can be during these times.
1. “I’m actually a little obsessive compulsive myself.”
That’s the first time I mentioned my mental health to my boyfriend. I can’t remember it exactly but we were still getting to know each other on a dating app and he was telling me about his neat-freak flatmate.
It was a bit of a white lie because I’m actually very obsessive compulsive. So much so that I was given a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) along with the accompanying depression and anxiety.
Suicide is a big word! From seeing it portrayed in the media to reading people’s personal stories, either a family’s experience or the person themselves, it can be scary to even think about. My journey with it began when someone close to me experienced suicidal thoughts, but I never really understood what they were going through at the time, how it could affect someone mentally and physically – feeling so low and wanting to never tell anyone about what you’re going through.